Cruising along in Hebrews 11, the famous “faith” chapter, I am struck by verse 6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (NIV). Now that statement stops me in my tracks. If faith is that important to God, it should be important to me. Is faith something more than a vague hope that things will turn out all right? Is it different from “trust”?
The word “faith,” as we commonly use it, has more to do with wishful thinking than certainty. Just think of the expression, “I have all the faith in the world.” How many times have we heard that one? Here is hopeful optimism, a leap in the dark, wishful thinking that the Red Sox will win the World Series, that my condo will sell quickly, that my puppy will be transformed by obedience school.
Biblical faith is made of sterner stuff.
What if I were to subject the word “faith” to a word study, ferreting out scriptural context?
What the Bible Says About Faith
My word study sends me to the section beginning with Hebrews 11:8, which repeats the phrase, “By faith Abraham …” How did Abraham walk in faith? I can see that every time God spoke, Abraham believed and acted on those words. I turn back to Genesis 12, where Abraham first encounters God. As far as we know, Abraham had no prior experience of God, yet God spoke to him and gave him a clear way to respond. Abraham’s obedience based on faith in what God told him put God’s word into action. Until God spoke, Abraham had no basis for faith. Wishful thinking would not make him the father of many nations. Hearing from God and believing what he heard, followed by active obedience, made it all happen.
Now my study carries me forward to Romans 4. Who would have thought that Father Abraham pops up in so many places in Scripture? A careful reading of Romans 4 allows me to equate the word “faith” with “believing God.” This passage seems to confirm that biblical faith must start with God speaking into our lives. When we respond to and act on what God has spoken to us, God’s kingdom is extended through us. What an awesome privilege that is!
Do We Need Faith to Read the Bible?
So how does this all work? We know that God can speak to us through the Bible. But we can be left wondering just how faith can activate our time in God’s Word. Is it possible to read the Bible without faith? Is faith a necessary catalyst in our absorption of Scripture? Or should we look at Bible reading as just another discipline in our lives, an activity like flossing our teeth or taking our vitamins, something to be done merely because it is “good for us”?
Imagine this for a moment:
You’ve spent a perfect autumn day hiking in the White Mountains, soaking up the beauty of color and light. The trails are magically carpeted in crimson and gold. It’s time to head home. Tired and hungry, you decide to take a shortcut down the mountainside. As you push through the underbrush, sure of your direction, you notice that the air is chilling and the sky is darkening. Suddenly fog rolls in. Within a matter of minutes, you can hardly see your hand in front of your face. You realize that you are on bare rock now, and it is slippery with forming ice. You can barely make out the edge of a precipice in front of you as darkness falls. Now all is black. You could easily freeze to death before morning.
You must do something. Perhaps if you hang and drop, you will land on another ledge further down, warmer and more sheltered. You could make a blind leap into the darkness and just hope.
Now imagine this:
You are in the same situation when out of the darkness comes a voice: “You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voice. I am on a nearby ridge. I have lived in these mountains for many years, and I know every foot of them. There is a ledge just five feet below you. If you hang and drop, you can make it through the night and I will find you in the morning.”
What is the difference?
Strengthening Faith through Scripture
When we feel lost, hopeless, out of options, are we stuck with our own resources, leaping blindly into the darkness of the future, fingers crossed, hoping that all will be well? Or can the God of Abraham speak into our lives?
Are we really different from Abraham? He is called “the father of all who believe,” and that includes us. When we open the Bible, we can expect something wonderful to happen. God can actually speak to us through its pages. God’s Word is “living and powerful,” as Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) assures us. We can receive personal comfort, direction, and motivation for our journey with our Lord. He gives us a basis for genuine faith, grounded in what God has said to us. Faith can be that practical.
What an astounding privilege we have to come to the Father, open the pages of the Word, and expect to be met by God’s answers for our needs. Will God really speak to us? Yes, God rewards those who seek him. Approached in faith, Bible reading is no longer a duty, but a joyful journey into the heart and will of God.
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